Celebrating Anniversaries at FCS

FCS Discovered with Jim Davis, Archivist

Birthdays are generally welcomed and celebrated by the young, sometimes less enthusiastically by those of us who are aging. Institutions, however, are invariably happy to mark such events. They remind us of our accomplishments (another year!). But they also remind us of the promise of the future and challenge us to maintain the legacy until the next anniversary.  

FCS is close to celebrating a major milestone, our 175th, during the 2020-2021 academic year. There is a name for this birthday – actually, many names, as there is much disagreement here. Since there is dispute about this, and since none of the names are easily pronounced or remembered – septaquintaquinquecentennial? Dodransbicentennial? – can we all just agree to use the number?

In looking through our archives, I find several interesting documents relating to our anniversaries over the years. Working backwards, the last major celebration was our 150th, marked during the 1995-1996 school year by a yearlong series of assemblies, dinners, academic symposia, and a day spent at the Quaker Meeting at 4th and Arch Streets with speeches, most notably by Clayton Farraday ’32 and Ed Rendell, then Mayor of Philadelphia. 

Ed Rendell, then Mayor of Philadelphia, with Head of School David M. Felsen

The 150th year began in the fall with an All-School gathering inaugurating a year of festivities. (See below for a video of the 150th Opening Ceremony) There were speeches, of course, food, of course, and music I had written for the occasion – a fanfare built on the notes “F,” “C,” and “Eb,” which in German reads as “Es’ FCS! (Listen to the piece here.) The morning culminated in an All-School photo, with the entire community arranged to form the numbers 150.  

The entire FCS community arranged to form the numbers 150

Juan Williams, well-known journalist and author of Eyes on the Prize, was a speaker at the academic symposium titled “150 Years and Climbing: Where do We Go from Here?” in which he delineated his memories of his Quaker education and challenged us to continue our mission. See below for a recording of the symposium.

The 150th year continued with workshops, a gala dinner, the creation of a “sesquicentennial mosaic”, an evening of plays written by teachers, students and alums called “Home Cookin” directed by Terry Guerin, and even the publication of an FCS cookbook!  So that year, we were enlightened, entertained, and fed!

Artist Tom Sonnenberg working with students on a mosaic to mark the 150th anniversary – the mosaic now hangs outside the Middle School building
Home Cookin, a series of dramatic presentations of  skits and poems directed by Terry Guerin, showcased the talents of students as part of the 150th celebrations.

Friends’ Central’s 100th anniversary in 1945, in the wake of the end of WWII, was largely marked by the promotion of the “Centenary Fund.” Begun in 1936, the fund named among its goals the creation of a Student Abroad Plan, the purchase of the skating pond, the acquisition of three and a half additional acres (achieved in 1939 – see pictures below of mortgage burning), construction of a new Field House, and – sadly unrealized – the building of a Meeting House on campus.  

(At left) Philadelphia Daily News on June 2, 1939 reported Friends’ Central’s ceremonial burning of the paid-off mortgage on the purchase of 3.5 additional acres for athletic fields; (Right) the 1939 “mortgage burning” taking place just outside the Main Building

Our 75th anniversary in 1920 was marked by the publication of a short history of the School, including tributes to two prominent figures in the School’s history, Aaron Ivins, Principal of the Boys’ Division from 1855-1883, and Annie Shoemaker, Principal of the Girls’ Division from 1875-1897. Among the gems in this publication is the reminder that the School began in 1845 with two divisions – one for young children of both genders, the other just for girls “wherein should be taught sewing and the other branches of a plan and useful education.” This latter division did not succeed. Another gem is the wry observation that this was because the $15-a-month salary was not enough to attract and retain teachers, noting “teachers did not work for the love of working in those days as they do now.” 

Music received its due during the 75th anniversary, with the composition of one of the FCS school songs. Unimaginatively titled, “Friends’ Central School Song,” it began the list of songs designed to be sung by assembled groups, none of which appear to have stood the test of time. 

So, while many of us may have mixed emotions as we turn older, FCS has taken pride in its longevity, its vitality, and its determination to reach that next numerical milestone. Happy Birthday!

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